ABU DHABI // The national junior team is about to embark on a hectic schedule of warm-up games as preparations for the Under 17 football World Cup heat up.
The UAE will be one of 24 teams taking part in the three-week tournament, from October 17 to November 7, marking the third time they have advanced to the tournament, having qualified in 1991 and 2009.
Starting in July, the team has lined up approximately 20 warm-up games on the schedule, coach Amir Rashid said.
"We are planning on playing games against Brazil, Argentina, Russia and many other teams, and the more we play such games, the more experienced and ready we become," he said.
"This is a great opportunity for the national team to play and familiarise itself with different playing styles and tactics."
Rashid took over as head coach in April last year and has spent much of the interim reshaping the side and bringing in new players.
The first period after joining was mainly to reform and add new players to the team, especially after the Asian preliminaries, and new talents have joined the team recently. The team has played as many as 20 matches with various teams since last August, he said, "and of course these matches add so much to the team in terms of experience".
Expectations from the side will likely be high, given that they are playing at home, and as an overspill of the goodwill around the senior side. But caution will be needed.
In March, when the official logo of the event was launched in Abu Dhabi, Yousuf Al Serkal, the chairman of the UAE Football Association, had sounded that note: "Since it is an international event and such a high standard of football, our aim is to at least start with and pass the first stage and look forward after that to what is next."
The pressure in being the home side, Rashid says, will play a part.
"There is no doubt that hosting an event as big as the Fifa U17 World Cup is an honour for the UAE, and I believe the country is capable of delivering a world class event," Rashid said. "It is quite normal for the team to feel pressure, since there is much attention from the media and high expectations from fans.
"However, we are aware of the challenges ahead and are well-prepared to face them. My role as head coach is to support this team in every way possible, and put every effort to prepare them mentally and physically for the tournament."
Rashid has been keeping an eye on the likely competition from around the world and knows it will not be easy.
"The competition will be very high in this tournament," he said. "I have been following up closely with all tournaments around the world, and the African qualifiers are very strong and physically well-prepared.
"The Japanese team are [also] tough competitors. They play very modern football and are very organised on the pitch. Currently I'm keeping an eye on the Uefa finals, and I think the Russian team are doing very well. We should not forget title-holders Mexico."